Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Supermovies #2: Superman II (Theatrical Version)

I don't think I've watched this movie more than once since getting the Donner Cut back in 2007, so this'll be an interesting experience.

Yay, weird space visuals again.

I forgot that this version gave us a glimpse into Zod's crime and capture. One thing I wish would make a reappearance is the Kryptonian guard. This recap is weird in the way it completely cuts out Jor-El. Guess that Brando contract didn't cover the second movie.

Oh hey, there's the poster S-shield.

I wonder if this is technically the first superhero movie to do the "recap using clips from the last movie during the title credits montage" thing. As I recall, Spider-Man 2 did the same, and I'm sure I've seen it elsewhere. This is a really long montage, though...seven minutes into the DVD, and we're only now getting to saving Lois from the earthquake.

I realize that Clark Kent's reporter job was originally so he could stay on the pulse of news and danger, but it's a little weird that Superman is unaware of a terrorist attack until he wanders into the newsroom.

The running costume change is great, though I still wish they'd do something a little more than just a fade from suit to super-suit. Limitations of technology, I guess, but it just feels so...Wonder Woman.

Did you know that in France everyone just speaks English with a French accent? Except cops, apparently. I'd like to think that Lois Lane knows at least a bit more French than what she shows here, but it's also not clear if her ignorance is genuine or a smokescreen. Either way, I like that we see the extreme lengths to which Lois will go to get a story, and the way she thinks on her feet...even if that means she's not often thinking a step ahead.

The nuclear explosion really couldn't look more animated, and the fact that the Phantom Zone window just happened to be in range is another one of this movie series' unlikely coincidences.

The bit where the taxi hits Clark is awfully careless on Clark's part. The "Lois & Clark" pilot did that better with the bus scene.

I like the banter between Lex and Otis in the prison, but I like better that Lex's striped prison jumpsuit still has a cravat.

There's a decent amount of thought put into the scenes on the moon, with how the astronauts move and such. If only they'd put the same thought into the fact that they wouldn't be able to hear each other. It's also interesting that Kryptonians apparently speak English.

Luthor's holographic projector reminds me of his escape in "Miracle Monday," a nice testament to his technological genius. And goofy or not, I love the gag of Otis dragging the hot air balloon down.

Clark and Lois talking about their honeymoon hotel exposé assignment is a nice showcase of Lois's cynicism and Clark's ability to look for the human angle.

The shots of Lex an Miss Tessmacher in the hot air balloon showcase some more of that doesn't-really-hold-up green screen effect.

The whole scene at Niagara Falls is pretty well-done, giving Clark the chance to do a little flirting while also giving Lois a clue to his dual identity. The tension between Lois's affection for Clark and her feelings for Superman is played up quite well.

Lex fumbling around with the Kryptonian crystals makes the timeline of the first movie even more wonky. How could Krypton have been dead for thousands of years when Jor-El could talk about Einsteinian relativity (1905) and a Kryptonian elder could recite Joyce Kilmer's "Trees" (1914)? For that matter, why does the hyper-advanced world of Krypton spend so much time cataloging Earth culture and knowledge?

Giving Lara the job of keeper of Krypton's archives is a nice way of fleshing out her character, and helping to explain why they would and could send all this information with Kal-El. It was just sitting around on Kryptonian flash drives. More of that plot-necessitated convenience, though, as Lex learns of the Kryptonian criminals who just happen to have escaped and just happen to be heading toward Earth and he realizes he just happens to have been tracking them with his radar.

Clark's attempts to brush off Lois's suspicions waffle so weirdly between subtly trying to let it slip and trying to protect it. That said, rescuing Lois without becoming Superman is the kind of great scene we'd see in a good Bronze Age comic. Reeve's "Oh God" exclamations, with the cracking voice, and Kidder's final "This is really embarrassing" are just perfectly played, too.

The shot of Zod just casually walking across the water is a nice inversion of the messianic imagery that so often accompanies portrayals of Superman now. Non being unable to work his heat vision, however, is a weird running gag that never quite makes sense.

One thing I prefer about the Donner cut over the Lester version is how Donner's Lois figures out Superman's dual identity by being clever and playing on Clark's assumption that she will go to literally any length for a story, while Lester's is all Clark subconsciously leaking the truth. Donner's gives Lois more agency. Reeve plays the frustration and conflictedness well regardless.

The southern cop here is the same character, if not the same actor, that shows up in a couple of Bond flicks, I think. This scene begins the Lester (and later Cannon Films) trend of having Kryptonians develop new powers for no apparent reason, in this case, heat-vision-telekinesis. Also, Non continues being Zod's Otis. Or possibly his Krypto.

It's nice to have a Superman and Lois flying sequence without inane poetic voiceover.

Sure are a lot of scenes of Kryptonians beating up rednecks in this movie.
Oh, hey, more of Zod's telekinesis. And a young child who is apparently British.

One thing that's notable about the movie Fortress is that for all its striking crystalline architecture, it's just not as interesting as any other version of the Fortress of Solitude. There are no trophies, no robot servants, no super-science labs, no intergalactic zoo, just white and clear crystals. It looks cool, but the effect wears off quickly. If we see a Fortress in future films, and the Man of Steel trailers suggest we will, I hope it has more interesting things going on in the background.

The Zod Squad's assault on East Houston, Idaho continues with some really awful special effects and a bit of slapstick. Zod's ending bit, "Is there no one on this planet to even challenge me?" is pretty good, though.

Argh, the whole "you have to become an ordinary man" bit. So completely nonsensical. And I'd forgotten the weird montage of layers of Superman that gets thrown in the middle there, looking a bit like the transformation sequences from Altered Beast.
It's just such a forced and unnecessary bit of drama.

I do like the bit with the Zod Squad defacing Mount Rushmore. The White House battle is nice, and I love how effortless it is for the Kryptonians; it gives them that completely sinister, intimidating quality. Undermined when Zod gets into his "Rise before Zod, kneel before Zod" calisthenics routine. Lester really took "Kneel Before Zod" into catchphrase territory, and it gets old quick. The "Oh, God" bit is probably Zod's best moment.

Ah, Clark's inexplicable car and the North Pole diner. I do like the fight, though, especially the apt "You just don't have enough sense to know when to stay down."

It's kind of crappy that Clark's stuck hitchhiking to the Fortress--a ridiculous thing in and of itself--when he and Lois had a car just a few minutes ago. She couldn't find another ride? Couldn't go with him?

It's also weird that once he gets back to the Fortress, Clark's talking to and yelling at his father, when his mother is the one who told him the bad news about giving up his abilities.

It's interesting to see the banality of world domination. Zod doesn't seem to want anything to do with the day-to-day operations of the world governments, so life continues much the same as it had before, but with a different person in the big chair. It's like that Twilight Zone episode with the gambler who always wins. When your driving goal was world domination, what do you do when you achieve it and maintain it effortlessly?

Of course, then they meet Lex Luthor and storm off to the Daily Planet, where they wreck stuff and knock Perry White out with an acoustic ceiling tile.

Superman's "General, would you care to step outside" is a perfect line. It's a shame Zod ruins the moment with his catchphrase.

Heat vision becomes explodey vision in the ensuing battle, during which everyone just kind of flies around aimlessly. They kind of dropped the ball on "You'll believe a man can fly" for this installment. The aerial battle should be exciting, but it's more sluggish than anything. And the color commentary from spectators is just painful.

The bit where Superman turns Zod's heat vision back on him is fantastic, and the effect is very well done.
Exactly the kind of clever use of powers and environment that this kind of battle requires to work.

The scene where the citizens of Metropolis rise up to defend Superman is great, up until it becomes all slapstick.
It's clear that Spider-Man 2 took a lot from this movie, intentionally or otherwise. As for the slapstick, Lester loves phone booth gags so much that he works two into the same scene, and his love for fire hydrant gags becomes even more apparent in the next film. Also, the people of Metropolis, while brave, are among the dumbest people of all time. Why isn't the city evacuating?

The way they turn on Superman when he leaves is like what you'd see on a Silver Age cover.

Speaking of things you'd find on a Silver Age cover, "What is the secret of Superman's S-weapon?!" "How can Superman be in five places at once?!"

But the way Superman uses Luthor--and expects his double-cross--to trap the criminals, is pretty great though. Again, a flash of utter brilliance before Superman and Lois straight-up kill all the Kryptonian criminals.

Clark and Lois then have their wholly unnecessary break-up scene, which only makes sense if you make the assumption that the third act is built on, that Superman and Lois can't be together for...some reason. Because Kryptonians said so, I guess, because Clark's going to keep that rule when he didn't keep the "don't interfere with their history" one. I guess if you assume that any kiss would result in the loss of several days' worth of memories, that works, but we have no more reason to think that would be the case than we would to think Superman could trap someone with a cellophane S-shield.

Finally, there's the return to the diner. I understand the objections to this bit (though I think the objections to the preceding one are better), but I've always seen it as more of the kind of comeuppance Clark would give Steve Lombard than Clark being a bully. It's not Superman's best moment, but I don't think it's his worst one, even in this movie.

And then, the movie ends...with the exact same shot as the first one. Cheap, guys.

Overall: I like Superman II, but it suffers from the same rosy-eyed fan nostalgia as the 1989 Batman movie. Neither film is as good as people remember them being, and this one in particular throws Clark under the bus, and Superman makes some seriously uncharacteristic decisions. Add in the rapid oscillation between differing tones--is it drama or farce?--and the plot holes that largely result from stitching together different movie concepts, and it ends up being a pretty jumbled mess. There's a lot of good, but there's at least an equal amount of bad, and the most redeeming quality is in some excellent performances by nearly the entire cast. There's a reason that so many people love Christopher Reeve's Superman, and it's because he makes the character--every aspect of the character--completely believable.


Bob Buethe said...

You know, I've seen each of the Superman movies several times, but until last week, it never occurred to me that the Phantom Zoners died at the end of Superman II. I saw then depowered, and Superman and Lois push them down a sheet of ice into a pit, where I automatically assumed Superman held them until he could contact the authorities and turn them over for imprisonment. Since Man of Steel opened, though, I've read several forums where various people insist that Superman killed Zod and his partners. Honestly, that concept never even crossed my mind until now.

Tom Foss said...

I'm in the same boat; I'm not sure if I noticed it one of the last times I watched it, or if I saw it pointed out by Chris Sims and David Uzumeri in their review. I honestly don't think the filmmakers intended that to be the case, and that it was more like when dead/unconscious bad guys disappear in video games. They didn't want to have to deal with a lengthy resolution. But since they all fall into apparently bottomless pits, without powers, and are never mentioned again, the implications are pretty stark.